National Poetry Month: On Pinsky and Audience

Donna Cummings  sat next to Paul and me at the Pinsky reading last night, and Cummings typifies for me what I hope National Poetry Month is about. She told me she just began writing poetry, and her teacher at CCC-Eastern told her about the Cuyahoga County Public Library website, "Read and Write, 30 Days of Poetry." She signed on for the site and won tickets for the evening event at the beautiful Ohio Theater of Cleveland's gorgeous and historic Playhouse Square. Good for CCPL for making those tickets available.

Donna Cummings
Pinsky gave his usual allusively rich, well-delivered, funny, personal, and very intelligent reading, beginning with some favorite hits people had mentioned during the day ("Samurai Song" and "Shirt," for example, most of which he recited from memory), then broke out some new work: "Creole," "The City," "Inprovisation on Yiddish," (... a poem, "basically written by my grandmother," he said) "Grief" (a wonderful poem you can find here), a long poem titled "At Pleasure Bay," and a poem from Dante's last canto. Then he handled the Q-A with the polite and brilliant aplomb I have associated with his presentations ever since I first heard him read in 1999. Every "A" of his Q and A's is backed up with perfect examples from literature, all quoted from memory.
There were a lot of excellent poets in the audience last night too-- Sarah Gridley (who introduced
Laura Weldon (l) with CCPL librarian
Laurie Kincer (r) and Tom Kincer (c)
Pinsky), Bob McDonough, Joan Nicholl, John (and Lou) Stickney, Robert Miltner, Bonnie Jacobson, Linda Goodman Robinar, John Burroughs, and Laura Weldon.

I'm of the Big-Tent school of poetry, which is why I love National Poetry Month so much. It's not that I think that all poems are great poems or that anyone who writes is a great poet. And like Pinsky I am more aligned with poetry well-read than poetry performance. However, I am all for poetry performance  (outloud, off the page...), and I do have two "performance poems." And I am for poetry on the page...and in audio and video, with music backup or not.  I don't worry so much about the trivializing of the art of poetry, as some critics of National Poetry Month do, and I don't worry about bad poetry destroying the world or the art as some poets and critics do. Though I don't like reading bad poetry all that much, I've learned from James Wright--just walk to the pasture and invite the insects to join you.

But what I am REALLY for is encouraging people to come into the tent and listen, to have their favorite poems and say why. To make videos and sound files and websites and blogs of poems as well as pages. All of which is to say, I am really for Pinsky and for Donna Cummings. She left before I got to ask her how she liked the reading. I hope she did. I hope she continues to write.


  1. Thank you for welcoming us into poetry's Big Tent, Diane, especially through your work on Read + Write. Now, will someone tell Laura Weldon to stop making silly faces every time her photo is taken?

  2. Dear Diane, thank you for this. I have to say I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. Sounds like it was a great one! Wish I had time to do everything--